My Argentine Experience

This post is the last of my South American adventure and I’m so glad I was able to relive that journey through this blog. If I had to sum it up, Buenos Aires is a mixture of Manhattan and Paris—permeating the energy of New York (BA in fact made New York the city that naps 😊) and the architecture of Paris (hence the nickname, “Paris of South America”). Though my experience was not enough to be fully immersed in the Argentine culture, I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen and feel the vigor of the country’s capital city, that is Buenos Aires.

The “Argentine Experience” Dinner was listed as part of our itinerary in Buenos Aires and the description is as follows:

This evening’s highlight is the Argentine Experience: A unique blend of food, wine and interacting with the locals. Learn how to make traditional empanadas, dine on grilled provolet cheese with sliced chorizo sausage, warm bread and homemade chimichurri. Order steak (reputedly the best in Argentina!) in Spanish and make your own traditional mate. A convivial atmosphere and great food! Your guides throughout the evening will answer questions on Argentine cuisine and culture.

This seemed interesting and I looked forward to it all day. But it didn’t start until 7pm so I had all day to explore and to create my own Argentine experience.

I have read about a fascinating bookstore called El Ateneo Grand Splendid that was just recently named as the world’s most beautiful bookstore by the National Geographic. The building, in 1919, was originally a theater, then it became a cinema, and eventually became a bookstore in 2000. The stage, the balconies, the amazing architectural details, and even the red curtain were all retained from the original.

The bookstore also has a cafe located at the back and it is on a raised platform (as this was originally a theater). I was tempted to eat lunch there but I was still full from our breakfast this morning.

Each of the floor had a balcony where you can look down and take amazing photos. I searched for English books but didn’t find any. I found out later they only sold books written in Spanish. I was disappointed that I couldn’t buy a book from there but I ended up buying a stationary as a souvenir.

From the bookstore, we explored more on foot and found local boutiques (not the usual Zaras and H&Ms you’d find all over the world). I heard that once Argentina was famous for its really high platform shoes but no longer in fashion today (or I would’ve bought one!). By this time, I was ready for some food and Cafe Tortoni came to mind.

Café Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Argentina and was originally owned by a French immigrant named Touan. It was named Tortoni after the Parisian cafe in Boulevard des Italiens in Paris (thanks Wikipedia). The coffee shop has been visited by high profile names such as Albert Einstein, the King of Spain, and Hillary Clinton to name a few.

I wanted empanadas but they ran out so I ordered hot cocoa and churros only because everyone on TripAdvisor was also raving about the cafe’s hot chocolate drink. I’m not sure about those people but the hot cocoa was not great at all. I was picturing thick hot chocolate like the one at Angelina’s in Paris. The churros was cold and a bit chewy. I don’t really eat churros so I’m not sure if that was the right texture.

After a long day of walking and shopping, we were ready for tonight’s activity. The Argentine Experience dinner was in an unassuming building that looked more residential than commercial. We walked to the second floor and went into a room where two long wooden tables were set up. We introduced ourselves to a British couple who were sitting across us. The husband is a professor who is currently on sabbatical and brought his family to live in Argentina for a few months. They both seem to speak quite a bit of Spanish so l suppose living there paid off. Other tourists started arriving and when both tables were filled, the staff began the Argentine Experience presentation. First, we had wine and cocktails then tapas kept coming that I seriously can no longer remember the order they came. All I could think of was this was the kind of experience I’ve been looking for— anything to do with food and alcohol lol!

They showed us how to wrap an empanada and told us there’s going to be a competition on who gets to present the most artistically prepared empanada. I’m not very artistic and I knew I won’t win but I was fine as long as I get to eat good tonight. I made a heart empanada (see above photo) with an arrow across it but it really didn’t look that pretty so don’t judge me! My friend thought the arrow looked more like a man’s private part hahaha!

We made more empanadas, choosing between meat and veggies or both. I stuffed mine with both and gave them to the staff to bake. More food came and each one was super delish. Then came the main entree, the most famous food from Argentina—beef! Based on last night’s dinner from the tango show, I was very disappointed with the steak I had so I was hoping tonight’s steak is going to be way better.

The steak was juicy and tender. This is the quality of beef I expected from Argentina. I really have not had a mind blowing experience yet when it came to food while in Buenos Aires. I had researched where to get the best steaks in the city but my friend wasn’t interested in going so I didn’t go. Looking back, I should’ve just gone on my own.

They showed us the country’s national drink called mate (pronounced mah-tay). It’s similar to tea but more complex and contains more caffeine. The desserts were amazing as well. Towards the end of the evening, they announced the winner for the empanada contest and surprise…..I didn’t win haha!

I’m so thankful for this experience. It was absolutely the best way to end, not only the evening, but my South American trip! There are definitely things I would change (in this trip) to make it much more enjoyable but overall, I had the best time.

On the day of our departure, we had the morning free to explore before heading to the airport. We didn’t go far from our hotel (Palermo area) but we were able to do last minute shopping at the flea market. But the highlight of the day was this mural I saw of Donald Trump portrayed as the joker. It’s too good not to share.

**I’m so glad I finally posted all of my blogs on my South American vacation. It’s been a struggle to write lately, with all my life’s ups and downs. I also had distractions this past year but I’m thankful for everything that’s happened in my life. It’s definitely the only way to grow, learn more about myself and really know what I want out of life!

I’m ready for my next adventure!!!!!!

Tango ruined my night in Buenos Aires!

My first night in Buenos Aires was ruined by a tacky tango dinner and show. They also served tough-as-a-leather steak and my expectations of a delicious, melt in your mouth, Argentine beef were lowered. But as a consolation, the included tango lesson enabled me to at least tick off “learn to dance the tango in Argentina” in my bucket list!

A poet once wrote, “only the dead goes further than Patagonia.” It is, after all, referenced as the Ends Of The World. A trip to Patagonia is enough to acknowledge this said title. It took us a full day to get there and another to get out. On the day we left Patagonia Camp, we embarked on a six-hour drive to Calafate, the border town between Chile and Argentina. To reach Buenos Aires from Calafate is another four hour flight. The airport in Calafate was pretty basic with just a couple stores and a restaurant. But getting into Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires was the complete opposite: it was chaotic, loud, and had more familiar spots (yay for Starbucks and if you know about my obsession collection of Starbucks mugs, you’ll probably understand my frustration upon finding out they didn’t carry a Buenos Aires mug 😱). Two hours later, our luggage have not shown up yet and out of frustration, people started clapping, screaming, and making all sorts of noise.

Our hotel, Hotel Clásico, is located in the swanky Palermo area, walking distance to many shops and restaurants. Breakfast in the hotel was amazing but after the first morning, we realized they typically serve huge servings so we were full for the rest of the day everyday, which was a shame because I wasn’t able to explore the many amazing restaurants in Buenos Aires.

Our tour guide came to pick us up in the morning for our three hour private guided tour. Driving around the city of Buenos Aires, I can see why it was nicknamed as the “Paris of South America,” mainly because of the European influence in its architecture.

Our first stop was at the Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of the most famous Argentinian, Eva Peron (aka Evita). Wandering through the cemetery, I was in awe at how grand and luxurious each tomb was but understandably so. Famous and notable people were buried there—past presidents of Argentina, Nobel prize winners, and even a granddaughter of Napoleon! We saw some very ornate and intricately detailed structures but surprisingly, Eva Peron’s was among the simplest.

From the cemetery, we proceeded to San Telmo, the oldest residential neighborhood in Buenos Aires. We explored on foot the vibrant neighborhood of La Boca, the place where tango originated from. Walking along the colorful Caiminito Street, there were people dressed as tango dancers asking tourists to take photos with them for a few bucks. For only $5, I had my pictures taken with a tango dancer plus they gave me a costume to wear. Hey, you’re in Buenos Aires once, so who cares if this is a touristy thing to do. My friend didn’t want any pictures taken of her which I honestly didn’t understand why. She must’ve thought it was too cheesy but seriously it’s not like you’re in Buenos Aires everyday.

I really enjoyed playing dress up and pretending to dance the tango. My pictures were so much fun and worth the five bucks I paid. Caiminito Street is what I had envisioned Buenos Aires as a city— energetic, flamboyant, and colorful! Touristy but not too tacky (in my opinion).

From La Boca area, we visited the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis led mass as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Besides that, this church is best known for housing the mausoleum of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru from Spain.

Plaza de Mayo is the site of Argentina’s most important historical events. I’m not going to lie though, if there’s one thing I could remember from our guide’s historical babble was this balcony (where Eva and Juan Peron stood to wave at the people) and its significance to the movie Evita (yes, embarrassingly so, but at least I’m honest 😄). During the filming of the movie Evita, the producers asked permission if they could use the same balcony but the government had declined. There were speculations that Madonna’s sweet talk about the president, citing him as, “not only kind and generous but also very handsome,” in one of her interviews. This obviously charmed the president and eventually allowed them to film in the actual balcony. All I can say is never underestimate the power of a woman!

Our guide dropped us off at a shopping area where our city tour concluded. My friend and I decided not to eat lunch since we were looking forward to tonight’s activity: to watch a tango show that also included dance lessons and dinner. I found this company online that offered all three and had great reviews on TripAdvisor. They also paid for our taxi to get to the place which was great. As soon as we arrived we were directed to a room with other tourists. The instructor paired the women without male companions with men also without female companions. I was paired off by this quiet man from Michigan and he and I learned the basic tango dance steps. It was quite awkward because we were told to look at each other while dancing but I was too shy to make eye contact. He, however, intently stared at my face the whole time we danced.

After the dance lessons, we went to the showroom where we would eat our dinner before the show starts. I chose the steak even if I don’t eat beef as much because everyone told me I must eat steak in Argentina. The dinner included a bottle of wine but it was a very mediocre red wine. It took them forever to bring our dinner and when mine came, it was well done (I asked for medium). I would not send it back if it was good enough to eat but it was tough as a leather so I had to ask for another and made sure they bring me a steak that was cooked medium and not well done. It took them a whole hour to bring in the replacement and by then I was no longer hungry. The show also began very late (at least over two hours after we ate our dinner) and I can tell everyone in the room was getting very irritated with how slow everything was. I heard from the table next to us that their meal was awful and I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way.

When the show finally started, we were no longer enthusiastic about it. Although if it had been a great show, then we could at least forget all the mishaps and enjoy ourselves for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, the show was not quite as entertaining.

My first night in Buenos Aires was ruined by this tacky show but at least I can tick off learn to dance the tango in Argentina (or…okay just the basic dance steps) as it had been in one of my bucket lists.

Hiking in Patagonia: Condor’s Viewpoint

I haven’t been active here for several months now. My drafts have been left unfinished, finding no motivation to write lately.

My heart had been silent for so long and when it spoke, it only spoke of its sorrows. I tried everything to alleviate the sadness. I traveled, I hiked, I wrote, I drank. The battle continues. I contrived to stay afloat with my fighting spirit. But I can’t fight on almost empty. I was spiraling down to a place of total darkness.

Hence the lack of motivation.

Someone suggested I should go back to blogging and so I revisited some of my old drafts and was surprised that I haven’t posted anything on my hiking adventures in Patagonia. Imagine that! Hiking in Patagonia was my over-the-top, hiking dream trip and yet I neglected to write about it. It’s been almost ten months since I went there but the memories of Patagonia still lingers.

So here it is, get ready to read about my ass-kicking hiking experience in this part of the world where they call the last frontier of South America!

If you’re a control freak like me, forget about planning that perfect hiking trip in Patagonia. The weather, first of all, decides everything for you. Before I arrived in South America, I had planned to hike the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine. Unfortunately, as soon as I got to Patagonia Camp, I wasn’t too happy to hear from the guides that the hiking we were going to do in the next few days were all dependent on the weather (and most likely hiking the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine were quite dangerous due to the wet and slippery conditions). They talked us into going to several locations (where it wouldn’t be as windy and with less rain). Knowing I wouldn’t have the chance to hike the two most popular hiking destinations, I was disappointed to say the least. Eventually, we decided to to do the Cuernos + Condor Viewpoint Hike the following day, which marks our first day of hiking excursion.

Our day began at 8am, right after a sumptuous breakfast buffet at the camp’s main dining area. Our guide introduced us to six Americans who were going to be our hiking mates for the day. They were married couples— two couples from California and the other from Texas. They’ve all been friends for years and two of the gentlemen went to medical school together. They were older than us and if I had to guess their ages, they must be in their young sixties. Our hike started at El Salto Grande, a waterfall that’s 15 meters high. But as soon as we got there, it began to rain hard and the wind was blowing so heavily that I thought my body was going to fly and be thrown off the cliff. I could feel the rain coming down hard on my face which felt like little pebbles. No one moved from where we were standing, in fear of being blown away. But as expected with Patagonia’s crazy weather, the rain and wind stopped after a few minutes.

We continued with the hike, despite the on and off rain and heavy winds. Our guide had to change the plan and directed us towards a different path where he thought was safer. Everything around me was stunningly gorgeous. I was surrounded by beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, and picturesque trails.

In all honesty, Patagonia was not even included in my travel bucket list. I was just curious and fascinated to be somewhere far away, to this fabled edge of the world! My aunt from Chicago, whom I ran into at the airport in Dallas before embarking on my trip, asked me where my destination was. When I told her I was going to South America but mainly to go hiking in Patagonia, she was shocked to hear it is actually a place. She thought Patagonia was just a brand of clothing. Well, this is why I chose to come here, a place somewhere on earth where many haven’t visited or even fathomed it existed.

Our guide announced we would stop for lunch, picnic style. To our surprise, he and the driver had set up our table so elegantly. Besides our packed lunch, we were offered wine served on real wine glasses (not disposable cups), beers, snacks and each of us had a tupperware with our sandwiches. I had smoked salmon and the regional Calafate beer. During lunch, I noticed my friend was drinking more than she should (I was worried she might get tired especially we still have the rest of the afternoon to do more hiking). But knowing her, she can outdrink anyone I know, thus I was confident she will be okay.

After lunch, our guide informed us we would be hiking to Condor’s Viewpoint. He told us that the hike difficulty is moderate although we will be ascending for a whole hour. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited to finally be hiking with the rain gone and with a little bit of sunshine. Well, shit, this hike isn’t the same as the flat terrain I’m used to back home. I was climbing uphill for what felt an eternity and worse…on a muddy trail! Using my hiking pole really helped especially the trail was quite slippery. I was getting tired and starting to run out of breath! When I looked up, the Americans were already way ahead of me. Holy crap, I was embarrassed and felt defeated. These people were at least 10 to 15 years older than me yet they seemed much more fit and way faster than I was. I looked behind me and didn’t see my friend. I knew she was trailing behind me but she was nowhere to be found. I waited for at least 15 minutes and still has not shown up. I began to panic. What if she fell off the trail and died? I started to blame myself for taking her to this trip. It was my idea to go on a hiking trip to Patagonia and now she is dead because of me. I was picturing a scenario on how I’d break the devastating news to her family!!! I looked ahead and saw our guide waving at me with the Americans looking impatiently. I didn’t know what to do, whether to wait for my friend or proceed ahead. I really wanted to catch up with the rest of the group but I felt responsible for my friend’s well-being. A few minutes later, I saw a glimpse of her body, moving very slowly. She did not look good. I asked if she was okay. She tried to catch her breath but didn’t say anything and instead waved at me to go ahead. I yelled and told her to stop and wait right where she was and take a rest. There was no point to encourage her to catch up. As exhausted as I was, I didn’t want the Americans to think I was a weak and inexperienced hiker. So I began my ascent and was determined to reach the summit. When I finally caught up with everyone, I apologized to my guide and to the six Americans. I blamed the delay on my friend who was resting down below. (It’s okay she couldn’t hear me and will never know I put all the blame on her)…LOL!

The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking! This hike was definitely unforgettable and if it hadn’t been cloudy that day, a panoramic view of Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos del Paine, Valle del Francés and the Patagonian Andes would’ve been visible. As we made our descent, my friend joined us and told us about her low iron level which explains the lack of oxygen while ascending.

This was definitely a difficult terrain, but then again, I’m not a skillful hiker. It was quite easy for the six Americans who have been hiking most of their lives. I wondered what would’ve happened if I did the base of the Torres del Paine or the French Valley. I’m not sure I was ready for them after today’s experience. I was convinced that I need to do a lot more hiking in the future to be ready for any type of terrain.

Arriving at the camp, we wanted to chill at the bar after a grueling hike. We were introduced to a regional drink called Calafate Sour. It was so good that I must’ve had two or three glasses before dinner. All the dinners at Patagonia Camp were awesome. The first night was a buffet that included lamb (which was a Patagonian specialty). The second and remaining nights we were there, we were given a choice of an entree—with appetizer, dessert, and unlimited amount of wine.

Luckily there’s that unlimited amount of wine I indulged in after this first, difficult, and miserable hike.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story…..